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January 8, 2017

The food guide pyramid – A myth

by Helene van den Berg

I, me and my fat- part 9

Before 1960, physicians believed carbohydrates cause obesity and abstinence from starches, flour and sugars, is the obvious method of cure and prevention. After 1960, when the physicians stopped believing it, the current epidemic of obesity and diabetes started. Health officials believed that dietary fat causes heart disease (especially saturated fat) and eating carbohydrates are heart healthy and will prevent heart disease. The myth of the FOOD GUIDE PYRAMID was born!. At the bottom of the pyramid would be the staple of your “healthy” diet ; the “fat-free” carbohydrates (bread, cereals, rice, pasta group – 6-11 servings) and at the top of the pyramid, to be used sparingly, would be the fats and oils, with meat (2-3 servings) near the top as well. The food pyramid didn’t take the science of fat metabolism into consideration: carbohydrate is driving insulin is driving fat !. Carbohydrates were thought to be “heart-healthy” and couldn’t be reconciled with the idea that carbohydrates make us fat!.  



In the last 10 years, trials have been carried out to compare the following diets:  

  1. ATKINS DIET – 20 g/day of carbohydrates for the first 2-3 months and then 50g/day (200-400 calories), with as much fat and protein, desired.
  2. TRADITIONAL / LEARN DIET (Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitudes, Relationships, Nutrition)- calories are restricted, 55-60% carbohydrates,  less than 30% fat, less than 10% saturated fat. 
  3. ORNISH DIET – less than 10% fat, meditation, exercise.
  4. ZONE DIET – 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, 30% fat.

These studies were the best ever done, on the effects of eating high-saturated-fat diets on weight and on the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

They have concluded:

Those subjects who were on the Atkins diet , who ate mostly fat and protein, lost more weight, their triglycerides dropped further (good thing), their HDL went up further (good thing) and their blood pressure went down further, than any of those on the other diets.

 “Going on a diet to lose weight”, doesn’t make any sense, because it is the refined carbohydrates, starches and sugars that make us fat – not overeating or a sedentary life. Physicians using the Atkins diet in their clinics, confirmed that their patients lost weight and improve their cholesterol profiles on virtually nothing, but meat and leafy green vegetables.



Why have people lost weight going on low-fat diets (which are relatively high in carbohydrates)?. An explanation could be that, any successful diet will restrict the fattening carbohydrates. 

People who lose fat on a diet, do so NOT because of what they are eating, but because of the fattening carbohydrates they are NOT eating!!. On a diet, we will stop eating the obvious carbohydrates like beer, Coca-Cola, table sugar, donuts, sweets, cookies, white rice, bread etc. If we cut the number of calories from our diet, say by half, we will automatically cut the carbohydrates by half, too.  Therefore , when we decide to “eat healthy”, we will remove the most fattening carbohydrates from our diet and some portion of the total carbohydrates as well, which explains why we lose fat as a result. 

Therefore, successful weight-loss programs get rid of the fattening carbohydrates (they fail if they don’t) and reregulate fat tissue (release the excess calories it has accumulated). 

Food producers do the opposite with their low-fat products. They remove a little of the fat and it’s calories, but replace it with high-fructose corn syrup (e.g. low-fat yoghurt). We think we eat a heart-healthy snack, but instead, we get fatter because of the added carbohydrates and fructose!



A semi-starvation diet will fail, because:

  • lack of nutrients (fat,protein) and energy, instead of targeting the fat tissue specifically. 
  • Your body adjusts to the deficiency in calories, by expending less energy.
  • You get hungry and stay hungry.
  • You get depressed, irritable and tired all the time
  • You fall back to your old eating habits / become a binge eater.
  • Short term- you can’t keep up this semi-starvation indefinitely. Any weight that might be lost, can be maintained ONLY as long as the dieters can withstand the semi-starvation, but even then, the fat cells will try to recapture the lost fat and the body will compensate with reduced energy. If you can lose weight without hunger, you will be more likely to maintain that way of eating (lifestyle), than one that requires indefinite starvation!!. 



A carbohydrate – restriction diet will succeed, because: 

  • You don’t consciously restrict how much you eat. Trying to rein in appetite consciously , leads to compensatory responses like binge-eating. Patients get best results when they eat whenever they are hungry or not. We wrongly believe to lose weight, we have to eat less  – less proteins, fats, as well as the carbohydrates. But it is not the protein and fat that make us fat – only the carbohydrates – so there is no reason to restrict the protein and fats.  The goal is to remove the cause of our excess weight – the fattening carbohydrates –  and let your body find it’s own natural equilibrium between energy expenditure and consumption.  
  • You don’t get hungry anymore – you are burning your fat stores.
  • You expend more energy – you no longer divert fuel into your fat tissue, where you can’t use it and you have more energy to burn.
  • Long term – it becomes a lifestyle!.  

The biggest challenge is the craving for carbohydrates!  Sugars are addictive, due to the dopamine secretion in the brain – the same way cocaine, heroin and nicotine are. Prof. Noakes calls the principle player in controlling your appetite, the “appestat”. It is situated in the brain (hypothalamus) and  controls the regulation of human body weight by precisely matching the energy intake and energy expenditure. It helps us to be just hungry enough to eat the exact number of calories we need each day. Therefore, the natural state of humans is to be lean!. Prof. Noakes concluded that the modern obesity epidemic (since 1980) occurred immediately after we began to overload our bodies with fattening carbohydrates and processed foods, which damaged the appestat. The fact that we exercise less, is irrelevant –  a functional appestat will simply reduce hunger and the desire to eat, in exact proportion to the reduction in energy expenditure. For long-term success, no compromise is allowed (not even artificial sweeteners), otherwise you will always have these cravings.



High protein diets, without significant fat (or carbohydrates) can be toxic. Symptoms, like diarrhea,  nausea and weakness disappear, when the fat content is increased. Whether a diet is 75% fat and 25% protein or 65% fat or 35% protein, is not as important as which one is easier to sustain and provides the most enjoyment.   

By replacing the carbohydrates with fats in your diet, could cause a carbohydrate withdrawal, with short term effects  like fatigue, dehydration, diarrhea/constipation, nausea, dizziness and weakness (don’t attempt strenuous exercises) . The long term effects though, are living a longer, leaner and healthier life. While on a carbohydrate restriction, there is a water loss and consequently an early weight loss. For some people, the body will compensate for the water loss, through water retention and an electrolyte imbalance follows (kidneys excrete potassium to save sodium), resulting in above symptoms. Add ½ t salt back in the diet, to overcome this problem.  

NOTE: due to the side effects, the guidance of a nutritionist and knowledgeable physician are needed, especially in the case of a diabetic or hypertensive patient.  The combination of taking drugs with a carbohydrate-restricting diet, is dangerous!.  


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